USACE breaks ground on EAA reservoir project

EAA STA to be online in September

Posted 2/22/23

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District and South Florida Water Management District held a groundbreaking ceremony for EAA Reservoir …

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USACE breaks ground on EAA reservoir project

EAA STA to be online in September


SOUTH BAY — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) broke ground on the long-awaited Everglades Agricultural Area  Reservoir on Feb.. 22.

The reservoir and stormwater treatment area (STA) will cost an estimated $3.9 billion.

The EAA reservoir is part of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and is cost-shared between USACE and SFWMD. CEPP EAA will capture water previously lost to tide and redirect water flow south to the central Everglades, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

The above ground reservoir will cover about 10,500 acres and hold water 23 feet deep. The dike around the reservoir will be 37 to 40 feet high.

The EAA STA is already under construction on 6,500 acres adjacent to the EAA reservoir. The STA will clean the water from the reservoir before it is released to the Everglades. The STA is on track to be finished by September. While the reservoir is under construction, water from Lake Okeechobee can be sent directly to the EAA STA.

This project is designed to have the flexibility to enable the use of gravity to move the flow of water southward through two existing spillway structures on the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee and into two of the major canals in the Central and Southern Florida Project System.

Once complete, this project will give USACE the flexibility to use nature-based systems to capture, store, treat and release water to the central and southern Everglades and Florida Bay, when and where it is needed.

“This project is a crucial milestone for Everglades restoration. The EAA reservoir will continue to improve water quality, reduce algal blooms and provide water for people and the environment in south Florida,” said Michael L. Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The administration remains committed to ensuring the success of Everglades restoration by continuing to dedicate major resources to this project.”

“Today’s groundbreaking is a testament to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its partner’s commitment to Everglades restoration,” said Col. James Booth, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

“Many consider this project to be the 'crown jewel' of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area phase of the Central Everglades Planning Project is the keystone that deliberately reconnects Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. Today’s success is due to the collaboration of federal, tribal, state and local partners.”

“Breaking ground on the long-anticipated EAA Reservoir is a monumental achievement for the restoration and protection of America’s Everglades,” said Drew Bartlett, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District.  "With this reservoir in place, there will be less damaging discharges to our coastal communities and more water to benefit our environment and communities across South Florida. Everglades restoration supports the resiliency of our state and economy. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to continue expediting this important project and maintain the momentum for Everglades restoration.”

Work on the EAA reservoir project began in 2018 after the former SFWMD governing board approved a lease renewal with Florida Crystals that allowed SFWMD to start work immediately on a portion of the leased land. They bulldozed sugar cane fields to create  a staging area where rocks and other materials could be stored for the project.   The lease also allowed USACE staff to conduct geological sampling needed to design the reservoir.

The  lease included an option to cancel the lease  with 24 months notice.   USACE engineers assured the SFWMD the lease would not delay the reservoir project because the design and engineering planning for the massive project would take longer than two years. The lease provided continued revenue from the property until USACE was ready to start construction. It also ensured the farmers would continue to manage the land until it was needed for the reservoir project.

Jake Fojtik of Florida Farm Bureau said the EAA reservoir is more than 23 years in the making. He said the farming community's  support of reservoir and all Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects has never waivered. Fojtik said farmers have relinquished productive farmland for EAA projects, and paid millions of dollars in special taxes.  With the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs), EAA farmers have cut the phosphorus content in water leaving the fields an average of 57%, more than double the minimum set by the state. Thanks to these efforts, water entering Everglades National Park meets the  water quality standard set by the federal government.

He said farmers also voluntarily ended leases on state land early, including the lease on part of the prorperty on which the STA is currently being built.

South Bay Mayor Joe Kyles thanked the state and federal officials for using land already in state ownership for the EAA reservoir and STA projects, rather than take more agricultural land out of production.  He said sugar farming is responsible for 19,000 jobs and adds $4.7 million to the South Florida economy. The reservoir "shows we can protect the Everglades and local jobs," said the mayor.

“At Florida Crystals, we value our environmental partnership with the state and federal government and have actively collaborated for more than 20 years to help them implement Everglades restoration projects,” said Pepe Fanjul, Jr., Executive Vice President of Florida Crystals, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony. “My family and our team at Florida Crystals have worked closely with government officials to help keep the EAA Reservoir Project’s accelerated construction schedule on track. We made a commitment to help, and we’re proud to see it to fruition for all Floridians.”

In partnership with the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Crystals voluntarily terminated long-term agricultural leases to give the government early access to 10,924 acres of land since 2019 for the speedy construction of the EAA Reservoir and the associated stormwater treatment area (STA). 

In total, EAA farmers, south of Lake Okeechobee, have given up more than 120,000 acres of farmland, which count as the most productive soil in the world, for Everglades restoration projects. For more than two decades, EAA farmers have been the most active and committed partners helping Everglades restoration succeed.

EAA reservoir, Lake Okeechobee